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Travel: Planet creaks underfoot … … as we walk toward sunrise

THE Silk Road wasn’t a camel rut worn in the Steppe. It was an idea; the prototype for (today’s) globalisation.

Silk was only its brand. … Paul Salopek, in an account of his epic 21,0 0 0 - mile jour ney on foot during which he traced human migrations from East Africa to Patagonia (South America).

I’V E chosen this quote to, first, emphasize the importance of walking, or hiking as we call it in the language of tourism. Two, I’m also doing this to tell the story of my love for walking.

In Dar, there are few places I care to take vehicular transport; else, I walk to practically all places: to work around TAZARA from Karume Stadium (71 -8 0 minutes; I also once always walked – unless it rained -- from Sinza Area to the offices of IPP newsrooms at Mickocheni Area (51 minutes on average, with a brief stopover for a drink on my way back).

And, this habit I’ve cultivated since childhood as a result of chasing cows across the steppe as a herds boy, and later to a boarding middle school during Primary Five to Six in the early 1960s – 14 hours’ walk from my third world village in this third world country – simply because there wasn’t reliable transport between these two points.

The alternative was to take a lengthy connection, which we considered a ‘luxury’ even if we had the money to do it. During those walks, I happened to have developed an uncanny ‘friendship’ with Datog (Wataturu) pastoralists midway; I call it ‘uncanny’ because my own community was always at loggerheads with these Wataturu guys, suspecting them of cattle rustling (read stealing) from us.

Which brings me to the quote above, in which Salopek’s narrative about the Silk Road further says, in part: “It wasn’t a road “Less a highway, it was a diffuse web, a shifting skein of thousands of camel trails, mountain-pass bottlenecks, turreted canvassaries, river bazaars, seaports, and lonely desert cairns (spaced eyeshot apart from navigation) that bound together the two great economic centres of the classical world, Han China and the Roman Mediterranean….

“At its geographical crossroads in Central Asia, where kingdoms of middlemen grew rich, the Silk Road’s goods flowed radially in all directions.

North to the Russian principalities, South to Persia and the Indus, West to Constantinople and East to X ian, this network of commerce linked ten of millions of lives as far as Africa and Southeast Asia…

“The Silk Road wasn’t a camel rut worn in the Steppe. It was an idea: the prototype of globalisation. Silk was only its brand.” It’s the ‘brand’ that defines my love for walking.

We note that we’re talking about the Old Silk Road, world engagement in anything from “…silk and spices to livestock and religions, the trade of goods and ideas (which) ebbed and flowed between the second century BC and the 14th century AD.”

Put another way, the big deal about the Silk Road about trading in commerce, the great narrative (religions and ideas) and, most importantly, genes.

This was well before Christopher Columbus rounded the Cape Good Hope to ostensibly ‘discover’ Kilwa in East Africa as if there weren’t Africans there, in the first place.

Now fast forward to Pemba in the Isles archipelago today. Here, Mary Fitzgerald of Lonely Planet tells the story of a choice slice of coastline, the Kigomasha Peninsula, thus: “Y ou may need to rub your eyes (winking spiritedly, hopefully) to check that you haven’t died and gone to heaven, so idyllic is the view with fishermen mending nets and ngalawas bobbing on the surf.

It’s an isolated spot … so come with company and a picnic.” In today’s tourism circuits, Pemba pales into some sort of backwaters in relation to the so-called Northern Circuit – because it doesn’t have the lions and cheetahs; instead, it appeals to a discerning tourist on the hiking trail (again, read walking).

For a backdrop, this slice of coastline we’re talking about is part of the dense Ngezi Forest Reserve, “the wonderfully lush forest (which) is the last remaining areas of ‘primary’ forest that once covered western Pemba…

“It’s notable in that it resembles the highland rainforests of East Africa more than the lowland forests found on Zanzibar-the 147 6-hectare reserve is a true double-canopy with an upper layer of mgulele, mwavi, mtondo and mvule trees towering up to 4 0m high with lianas snaking between them providing swings for raucous monkeys….”

Now, we’re getting to my love for walks, albeit in miniature scale compared to Salopeck’a 21,000-mile walk across the world; yet the important thing is walking.

If you could only imagine, for a second, that you’re hiking in the Usambaras, where you’d most likely hear more of the local KiSambaa language spoken than KiSwahili, as follows: Onga maundo (Good morning): Niwedi (I’m fine (in response): Hongea (sana) Thank you (ver much).

If you’re also a keen hiker, you’d have made sure you had – at least – some ‘working knowledge” of the local language before setting out on this expedition.

We’re back to the Silk Road and the three commodities that the human species trades in: commerce, ideas and genes. That, yet again, defines my love for walking. Walking, out of our shelves, begets love … true love for what this planet holds in store. Please walk, will you?

shanimpinga@ gmail.com phone: 07 12122128

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Author: James Mpinga

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